Plants & Pets
Did you know your garden could be hiding all sorts of nutritional and medicinal gems? From curing heartburn, cystitis and coughs to providing free protein, vitamins and minerals, common weeds have some truly amazing benefits. Sadly, most people simply dig them up, mow them down or kill them in various ways.
Red Clover (Trifolium pretense)
You might have noticed that this pretty pinky-red flower attracts all the bees to your garden. It’s not just a great source of food for them, but also for you! Traditionally used in India for its anti-inflammatory properties, Red Clover has also been used as a folk remedy for cancer. However, as there is no evidence to back this claim up, it is best to enjoy red clover simply as a source of calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C. Because it’s also a rich in isoflavones, chemicals that act like estrogens in the body, go easy on your intake. Small amounts of raw clover leaves or the flowers can be added to salads, sautéed or pan roasted.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
This garden weed is a great source of vitamins A, D and C, as well as iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. Chickweed has a delicate flavor, much like spinach, and works well when freshly picked and added to sandwiches and salads. If you don’t like the taste, you can still reap the benefits by hiding it in soups and stews. Medicinally, chickweed can be used as a topical treatment for minor cuts, burns, eczema and rashes. It is also a mild diuretic and is said to relieve cystitis and irritable bladder symptoms.
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
Curly dock is one of the hardiest and most widespread weeds, so you should have no trouble finding a source. The leaves are high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, and zinc ensuring good immunity, and the seeds are rich in calcium and fiber. The stems of the curly dock can be peeled and eaten either cooked or raw, and the mature seeds can be roasted to make an earthy, warm drink.
Daisies (Bellis perennis)
Not just for making daisy chains, the greens and petals of this common garden flower can be eaten either raw or cooked, although some find the flavor a little bitter. Daisies have been brewed into a tea and used in traditional Austrian medicine for gastrointestinal and respiratory tract disorders. They also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Probably the most well-known of all weeds, the humble dandelion is actually bursting with vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion has been used throughout history to treat everything from liver problems and kidney disease to heartburn and appendicitis. Today, it is mainly used as a diuretic, appetite stimulant and for the liver and gallbladder. Every part of this common weed is edible, from the roots to the blossoms. Use the leaves in sandwiches and stir fries, they boast more beta carotene than carrots, meaning they are great for healthy eyes. Roots can be made into a herbal tea, or roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. The sweet flower heads will add color to salads and can be used to make wines.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Part of the mustard family, this particular plant is considered an invasive species. However, it brings with it a lot of great health benefits – aside from being a good source of vitamin A and C, Garlic Mustard is popular as a diuretic, helps with weight maintenance, improves heart health, lowers cholesterol and strengthens the immune system. Historically it was used to flavor salt fish but it’s also really flavorsome when mixed with mashed potatoes, soups or salads.
Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra)
The truly versatile Elder is not exactly a weed but is quite a common wild tree, especially around rivers and lakes. The flowers can be collected in spring to make elderflower cordial, soda or champagne. With a refreshing, mild taste, they’re great when paired with apple or pear. Dry the flowers in bunches to make a tea. Once the flowers on the tree die off, the green berries can be picked (before they ripen) and pickled to make elderberry capers. Make sure to leave some, as the ripened berries make a delicious balsamic vinegar. The leaves, flowers, fruits, and root extracts are used by herbalists to treat bronchitis, cough, colds, flu and fever. Studies have shown that the wild plant is effective in treating influenza.
Common Mallow (Malva)
Unlike its name suggests, the flavor of this plant is nothing like marshmallow. Tea made from common mallow root forms a gelatinous mixture, which is soothing for the digestive and genitourinary tracts. Like many of the other weeds listed, the leaves are better tasting when eaten young and can be cooked in place of other greens. The seed pods are also edible and containing impressive 21% protein.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
A nutritional powerhouse, Purslane contains moreomega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. It’s rich in vitamins A, C, E as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. In traditional Chinese medicine, purslane leaves are used for insect bites and bee stings, sores, diarrhoea and haemorrhoids. With a somewhat sour and salty flavor, it is an acquired taste, but works great in soups and stews. Try breading and frying the leaves for a tempura style side dish.
Plantain (Plantago major)
Not to be confused with the banana-like Caribbean fruit, this common weed can be used topically to treat burns, stings and other wounds. While the young leaves are tasty either raw or cooked, the older leaves are a bit tough and unpleasant tasting. 100 grams of plantain contains the same amount of vitamin A as a large carrot, and is very rich in vitamin B1 and riboflavin. Research shows plantain is beneficial in treating bronchitis, sore throats and cold symptoms.
Wild Amaranth (Amaranthus)
This weed is a great source of free protein if you take the time to collect and prepare the seeds. The leaves of wild amaranth are delicious and delicately flavored when pan fried, or added to any dish that calls for leafy greens. Cooked amaranth leaves contain vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate; with lesser amounts of thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin, and some minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.
Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum)
Something all foragers hope to come across, wild garlic is a great find. With delicate white flowers and thin shoots, this useful ‘weed’ is delicious when used in a homemade pesto. It can also be used in place of chives or green onion, and added to salads, sandwiches and soups. Just like the garlic we are used to buying in the store, the wild variety also boasts antibacterial, antibiotic, antiseptic and antifungal properties. Of all the garlics, wild garlic has been found to have the greatest ability to lower blood pressure.
Wild Violets (Viola)
While you may know this as the flower you purposely planted in your garden, it also grows in the wild and is considered a weed by some. The mild tasting leaves and stems can be eaten either raw or cooked. Leaves can be dried for a tea which has mild laxative qualities and the flowers can be added to vinegar for a homemade dressing, or simply sprinkled on salads.
Before you rush out to pick plants for your dinner, make sure you know what is what. Because so many plants can look alike, and some can have poisonous properties, it’s always best to thoroughly read up on the subject, take a guided foraging trip or consult an expert.
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